Whatever comes to mind when you think of Providence, Rhode Island, it probably isn’t the cuisine. Lovecraft’s, a new eatery themed around the famous Weird Tales author, is hoping to change that.
Combining H.P. Lovecraft’s trademark cosmic horror and pessimism about the human race with a family-orientated dining experience might not seem a natural fit, but natural fits have never been owner and head chef Jorge Stephenson’s forte. Best known for the wild and unprecedented success of The Bloodwolf Diner, a Viking themed steak house in lower Manhattan, Stephenson believes that Lovecraft’s is destined to become much more than a local oddity. “I believe the people will be drawn to this place of power,” Stephenson says, and that “they will have no choice. No one ever has.”
The flamboyant restaurateur came up with the idea for his new venture while on a fishing expedition near Southern China, explaining, “I saw something, there beneath the waves, that taught me the meaning of awe. I believed I could possess it, for a time. But no man can possess that for which there is no name, and so instead I give tribute, and perhaps through paying tribute hasten its awakening.”
Stephenson certainly has a way with words, and he’s just as creative in the kitchen. Recently a companion and I were invited to a preview meal at Lovecraft’s, which kicked off with “The Mussels of Erich Zann,” a twist on Mussels Italiano incorporating hints of calamari. My companion reported that there was something eerie about it, something that made her doubt that she’d ever been loved by anyone, but she’s never been one for seafood. I found it delicious, flavorful without being overwhelming. For entrees, I dug into “The Calzone Out of Space” and my companion went with “The Outsider,” a large half-pound burger topped with bacon, chicken fingers, a fried egg, and once again a signature calamari curl.
My calzone was exquisite, the dough crisp and lightly seasoned, the filling (pepperoni, sausage, and an unidentifiable fish-like substance) fresh and flavorful. As an extra fun little bonus, the sauce and cheese were dyed a strange color that I can’t quite describe…at first I wanted to call it purple, but the second I became comfortable calling it purple it really started to seem more orange. I asked my server about it and he began to tremble and advised me to escape while there was still time. Delighted by this clever touch, I asked the waiter another question, this one about the composition of the sausage, but instead of answering he began stuffing napkins in this mouth, an apparent attempt at asphyxiation, and was quickly dragged away by the floor manager, who not only personally served us but loomed nearby shivering and jotting down snippets of our conversation for the rest of the evening.
It should be said that Stephenson has really gone to great lengths making sure that the décor in Lovecraft’s is worthy of its namesake. The dining room resembles a stuffy old research library, the walls lined with dusty books with titles both Arabic and otherworldly. The menus are printed on yellowing paper and made to look like old ledgers, and the wine menu comes bound in some strange leather that writhes at human touch. Creepy and effective! The house wine, N’ars’etep, was not available during our visit. Stephenson assured me that the process by which they produce N’ars’etep is “Eldritch, and painstaking, but we should have more than enough to inoculate everyone come our grand opening.”
My companion began crying halfway through her meal and complained that it was more like eating the idea of beef than a real burger, and also that the bacon was undercooked, but I tasted it and thought it was wonderful, juicy and thick. She excused herself to the restroom and I ordered us “The Mountains of Madness,” five scoops of ice cream topped with gummy worms, nuts, gummy spiders and gummy squid, to share as a desert.
The ice cream came before my companion returned, and I couldn’t help trying it. It was that same strange color as the calzone filling—imagine if static was a color, but exotic static, static from a country that no longer exists—and had a taste I couldn’t quite place. Like the ocean at night, kind of, but the way the ocean at night would taste in a dream. But not a dream you’re having yourself, a dream that a madman is screaming about in an alleyway late at night. Anyway, I really had to tear myself away before I finished the entire thing, deciding to go search for her instead, as at this point she’s been gone a while.
You don’t often find yourself saying this as a restaurant critic, but the restrooms at Lovecraft’s might be its crowning achievement. I’m not sure how to do them justice, I’m not sure the written word really could. After calling into the ladies room and receiving no reply, I walked in and found a vast asymmetrical chamber carved—I swear—from a single enormous slab of marble, decorated with strange sculptures that seemed to shiver in the pale light given off by fixtures made to resemble the faces of cruel, leering children. The line of stalls, which resembled pens and were filled with discarded bones, seemed to go on forever, and I didn’t have time to check them all out as the way the room lurched unexpectedly began to make me nauseous.
My companion never returned, must have slunk out the back or something, but quite frankly I’m not sure I want to spend that much time in the company of someone who doesn’t love Lovecraft’s anyway. Make sure you check it out soon, and I do mean soon, as suddenly I’m overcome with a kind of… immediacy? A sense that whatever must be accomplished must be accomplished now, before time runs out. If time can run out. If there’s such a thing as time.
Maybe I’m just hungry. Luckily, I know where to go.
Atmosphere: Family friendly, Cyclopean
Service: Attentive and unblinking
Prices: Entrees range $15-25, which is a little pricey if you haven’t yet abandoned the idea that anything but survival has any real value.
Children Welcome?: Lovecraft’s features a full children’s menu and a separate dining pit for kids aged 5-12.
Rating: Five stars
What the stars mean: Zero stars, average. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, the sound of an animal screaming in pain. Four stars, excellent. Five stars, enough to draw a pentagram.